Expert Insight: How to empower essential workers in a pandemic

Steven Kramer
Steven Kramer

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans to work from home. 

But workers in essential services, such as many retailers, have clocked in for their shifts every day since the pandemic’s onset. And working amid the pandemic has taken a serious toll on frontline essential workers. 

A recent Gallup poll reported that only 41% of employees feel their employers have communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19. This statistic should concern organizational leaders. 

If essential workers continue to feel unheard by their employers, companies risk absenteeism from employees or losing workers altogether to burnout. As a result, this loss of workers can lead to a reduced workforce and in turn, a poor customer experience. 

Employee empowerment starts with effective workplace communication 
Engaging and empowering employees can be a challenge, and during a pandemic, it can seem near impossible. But, with the right technology and communication strategy, you can support your essential workers and empower them to work their best. Here’s how. 

1. Establish a centralized digital workplace platform  
Without a single source of consistent workplace communication, employees quickly become confused and frustrated. A centralized digital workplace platform reduces the risk of confusion by eliminating ambiguity—employees shouldn’t have to guess where to find necessary company information. 

A central platform also enables a convenient access point for workers to their jobs since modern digital workplace platforms are accessible via mobile apps and on the web. Mobile access allows employees to stay informed on company news no matter where they are. Plus, employers can use push notifications to let workers know about updates in real-time.  

2. Open channels of two-way communication. 
To establish consistent workplace communication, you have to give employees a voice. A digital workplace enables you to create channels of two-way communication between company leaders and frontline workers. 

One of the most popular communication tools is a company-wide employee channel that workers can use to ask questions in real-time. Using this tool, you can create a CEO channel that allows employees to hear directly from C-suite leadership. Another effective tactic is a COVID-specific channel where workers can ask about company policies, find updates on store closures, and gain 24/7 access to health and safety protocols. 

Two-way communication not only opens dialogue between you and your employees, but also encourages inter-employee communication. Instant messaging features streamline important discussions between workers, and managers from any store location can share dos and don’ts, as well as other advice, on a manager channel.

Deploying tasks, training, and surveys inside the same digital workplace platform can be an effective way to communicate important operations. Engage and empower employees by having necessary work modules alongside communication. 

Improved employee satisfaction benefits your business by reducing attrition rates, improving attendance, and bettering the customer experience. 

3. Prioritize safety  
With well-being top of mind for every essential worker, it’s important to turn your digital workplace platform into a health and safety training hub. Further, by leveraging digital workplace technology on employees’ personal mobile devices, tools for operations become contactless—enabling you to remain compliant with card punching, tasks, training, and other activities.

Create quizzes on COVID-related store procedures to help keep employees informed and in compliance with government regulations. You can also upload training videos that show how to use PPE or properly sanitize a work area after use. Additionally, set up a health screening questionnaire that workers must complete before they start their shift to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.

Emphasizing health and safety protocols in workplace communications is critical for maintaining a safe work environment. With only 42% of the nation’s workers saying their organization cares about their well-being during the pandemic, it also shows employees that their health is a priority to you. 

4. Offer early earned wage access.  
An increasingly relevant employee empowerment tool made possible by digital workplace platforms is early access to earned wages. The functionality enables workers to access a defined percentage of their accrued earnings with no extra fees. 

Financial pressure is one of the top stressors hourly essential workers face. At a time when workers may have to take care of a sick family member or incur extra childcare costs while they’re on the job, providing early access to wages helps alleviate financial pressure.

Improved employee satisfaction benefits your business by reducing attrition rates, improving attendance, and bettering the customer experience. 
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of slowing down. Essential workers are more important than ever and they need to feel empowered in the workplace. By leveraging a centralized workplace platform to improve communication and engagement, you can show your essential workers that you’re going the extra mile to take care of them — so they can focus on taking care of us. 

Steven Kramer is CEO, president and co-founder of WorkJam.

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